Thai premier resigns as party leader after election

Thai premier resigns as party leader after election

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva resigned Monday as leader of the Democrat Party after a resounding defeat in weekend polls that paved the way for the country's first female prime minister, DPA reported.

The 46-year-old, Oxford-educated premier, a 20-year veteran of Thai politics, announced his resignation after the Democrats won 159 seats in the lower house of Parliament in Sunday's general election, compared with 265 for the opposition Pheu Thai Party, according to the Election Commission's preliminary count of more than 99 per cent of the ballots.

"As leader of the Democrat Party, in acknowledgement that we have won fewer seats this time than in the 2007 election, I need to accept responsibility and have decided to resign," Abhisit said after he saw his party's seats drop from the 164 it won in the December 2007 polls.

Abhisit's successor as prime minister was set to be Pheu Thai's Yingluck Shinawatra, sister of fugitive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, after her party won a clear majority of the 500 contested seats.

The voting results have left Thailand neatly divided along regional lines with Pheu Thai dominating the north and north-east while the Democrats have retained their popularity in the south and Bangkok, Thailand's more prosperous areas.

Other smaller parties that won seats were Bhumjaithai, 34 seats; Chatthaipattana, 19; Chatpattana Pheupandin, seven; Palang Chon, seven; Rakprathetthai, four; Matabum, two; Raksanti, one; Mahachon, one; and the New Democrat Party, one.

The Election Commission's count was still unofficial. Over the next two weeks, it is to investigate hundreds of allegations of vote buying and election fraud that could lead to several elected candidates losing their seats and the dissolution of political parties.

At a press conference late Sunday, Yingluck confirmed that Pheu Thai had already approached Chatthaipattana to form a coalition government. Chatpattana Pheupandin was also expected to join.

Abhisit, 46, conceded defeat Sunday night and vowed to turn the Democrat Party into an effective opposition.

Yingluck, a former businesswoman with no political experience other than her successful election campaign, is now on track to become premier after her brother, still popular despite being ousted in a 2006 coup and the de-facto Pheu Thai leader, picked her as its prime minister candidate, describing her as his "clone."

Thaksin, a former billionaire telecommunications tycoon who has been living in self-imposed exile since 2008 to avoid a two-year jail sentence on a conviction for abuse of power, acknowledged in an interview that his little sister faces "a tough job" ahead of her.

Thailand has been deeply divided since early 2006 when Bangkok's middle classes and political elites turned against Thaksin's increasingly autocratic, self-serving rule.

He was toppled in a military coup, sentenced and had 46 billion baht (1.5 billion dollars) in family assets confiscated by the Supreme Court in 2010.

Any efforts by Pheu Thai to grant Thaksin an amnesty would run into serious opposition, analysts said.

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